Engraving of a slave being whipped.

The Civil War grew out of longstanding tensions and disagreements about American life and politics. For more than 80 years, people in the Northern and Southern states had been debating the issues that ultimately led to war: economic policies and practices, cultural values, the extent and reach of the Federal government, and, most importantly, the role of slavery within American society.

Against the backdrop of these larger issues, individual soldiers had their own reasons for fighting. Their motivations often included a complex mix of personal, social, economic and political values that didn't necessarily match the aims expressed by their respective governments.

Showing results 6-10 of 10

  • Fort Sumter National Monument

    Politics in Charleston

    U.S. flag that flew during the bombardment of Fort Sumter

    Since the early 18th century, Charleston had gained a reputation for an independent-minded populace. Because of their opposition to such government actions as tariffs (leading to the Nullification Crisis) and the Compromise of 1850, it should have come as no surprise that South Carolina was the first state to secede and the war's first shots were fired in Charleston. Read more

  • Lincoln Home National Historic Site

    Secession: Why Lincoln Feared it was the End of Democracy

    Photograph of Abraham Lincoln

    When the South decided to secede from the Union on the eve of the Civil War in 1860, perhaps no political figure was more adamant than Abraham Lincoln himself about why this was dangerous - not just for America, but the world. Read more

  • Wilson's Creek National Battlefield

    Slaves, Unionists, and Secessionists

    Print of General Nathaniel Lyon falling from horse after being shot during the Battle of  Wilson's Creek

    Local residents of the Wilson's Creek, Missouri area in 1861 were a microcosm of the divided nation, bringing with them different backgrounds and beliefs about slavery and Union. For example, John Ray and his wife, Roxanna, whose farm would be in the midst of the battle, were slave owning Southerners, though they supported the Union. Read more

  • Golden Gate National Recreation Area

    The Broderick-Terry Duel

    Early 20th-century depiction of the Broderick-Terry duel

    Following the controversial Compromise of 1850, which admitted California to the union as a free state, politics were intense and heated. Pro-slavery State Supreme Court Judge Terry and staunch anti-slavery candidate Senator Broderick took their disagreement beyond words. Two shots fired, one man dead, two causes continued to battle. Read more

  • Antietam National Battlefield

    The Emancipation Proclamation

    A recruiting poster showing a Union soldier and a banner

    Toward the end of the Civil War's second year, Abraham Lincoln made added the abolition of slavery to the restoration of the Union as the principal war aims of the North along by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation to free slaves in the South and strike a blow to the Confederate economy. Read more

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